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How Do Alligators Hunt? (In Water and On Land)

Alligators hunt with their teeth and powerful jaws, using their acute sense of smell and unique tactile sensory organs to pinpoint their prey in the water or on land.

Alligator eating meat
Alligators are carnivores and typically hunt fish and other small animals

Alligators are opportunistic feeders. They typically only attack animals that are smaller than them. They do not want to trifle with big prey if the success rate is low. 

Do Alligators Hunt on Land?

Alligators do not hunt on land. They are clumsy on land and lack the speed required to hunt down prey effectively.

Sometimes alligators may attack other creatures on land to drive predators away from their nests. They also give short chases to send threats away from their territory. 

How do Alligators Stalk their Prey?

Alligators, like crocodiles, hide in the water. They disguise themselves by blending in with the murky water, with only their snouts and eyes peeping above the surface. 

Alligators stay still, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. What they do is wait until something comes by or swims by. Then, if the prey is within range, the alligator snaps its powerful jaws and drags the animal in the water. 

Once the alligator has secured a bite, it pulls away with all its might. It has high levels of physical power and will also do the death roll if needed.  

Muja the Alligator
Alligators use their sense of smell to track prey above water

Related Article: What Do Alligators Eat?

How Active are Alligators in Hunting?

Alligators hunt and attack prey almost every two hours. Despite their small size, alligators eat fish and other small prey animals several times a day.

National Geographic conducted a study on how alligators hunt. Since camera operators could not follow the alligators, they decided to use what they call crittercams—cameras attached to the alligator’s body.

They found out that alligators are twice as successful in hunting underwater than when stalking prey on land. 

Read More: What Does It Mean When Alligators Bellow?

One thing the scientists did not expect was the frequency of the hunt. For many years, people believed that alligators only hunted a few times. Alligators, being big animals with a slow metabolism, were thought to have slow eating habits.

What this means is that they do not really need to eat that much for sustenance. However, alligators need to eat more if they want to grow bigger. 

Underwater, alligators could easily kill prey like crayfish and turtles. However, on land, they hunt mammals like raccoons.

Initially, scientists thought that alligators were better hunters on the surface because their line of sight was clearer. The water is murky, and this can have an adverse effect on the alligator’s success. However, the research showed otherwise.  

Underwater, alligators rely on sensitive pressure sensors on their snout to detect vibrations around them. They also have acute tactile sensory organs on their face and jaws.

alligator
Alligators are most effective at hunting during the early hours of the morning, just before sunrise

What Time do Alligators Hunt? 

Based on a study by National Geographic researchers, alligators are most successful at hunting between four and nine in the morning, contrary to the prevailing wisdom that alligators are nocturnal hunters.

James Nifong, a doctoral candidate who led the study, said that the alligators chose to forage in that timeframe because they use more energy during the day. It is better to hunt early in the morning when it is not yet that hot. 

Do Alligators Hunt Humans?

Alligators do not hunt humans. Although there are several incidents of alligator attacks every year, humans are too large to be prey to most alligators, and attacks are due to humans encroaching into alligator territory.

In the wild, alligators do not actively seek out humans for lunch. Some problems occur in areas where humans feed the alligators. If they do this, the alligators will associate humans with food, and it is why many humans fell victim to the gators. 

chinese alligator
Problems arise when alligators lose their natural fear of humans due to feeding and proximity

Can Alligators Hunt Underwater?

Alligators can hunt effectively underwater. Although they can’t smell underwater, they use special organs on their snout and face called integumentary sense organs (ISOs) to detect tiny movements in the water caused by fish or other prey.

Although alligators can drown, they do have a palatal valve that they close when underwater. This valve prevents water from entering the throat, even if they open their jaws to bite.

Alligators are not amphibians or fish, so they can not breathe underwater, but they can hold their breath for a long time.

If they bite successfully and they have the prey in their mouth, the alligators will surface, and that is where they will bite harder and swallow the prey. Alligators do not swallow prey underwater. 

Related Article: Alligators and Crocodiles Have Scales?

How do Baby Alligators Hunt?

Baby alligators hunt in the dark. They swim on the surface and hunt insects. Many of them set out alone, leaving the comfort of their group. 

At a week old, baby alligators are perfectly camouflaged. They spend their days close together under the watch of their mother. They may be defenseless, but they are also excellent hunters. 

At this stage of a gator’s life, gators are defenseless. There are many predators including fish, other reptiles, and birds that hunt and eat baby alligators.

What a baby gator typically does is jump out and lunger forward to its prey. They pounce on prey like small fish and insects. Like the adults, they use the lie-and-wait strategy to hunt. They hunt all night until they are satisfied. 

Summary

Alligators hunt with their sensory organs. They hunt underwater, and they stalk their prey. Once they are close enough, they jump or lift themselves up and snap at the prey. Then, they drag the prey underwater. 

If they are hunting underwater, they use their snouts and jaws to feel the vibration in their surroundings. They are also twice more successful underwater than on land when it comes to hunting. 

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